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The mission of this year’s World Health Day (7th April) – decided long before the coronavirus crisis began – is more relevant than anyone could have expected. The day has been dedicated to celebrating the work of nurses and midwives, and reminding world leaders of the critical role they play in keeping people healthy.
Nurses and other health workers are at the forefront of the response to the coronavirus, and we couldn’t do without the treatment, care and support they’re providing. Most will be working flat out in stressful situations. Some will be directly involved in caring for patients with the virus, but the impact of the pandemic is far wider, with many medical professionals having to carry out their jobs in increasingly challenging circumstances.
A number will have had to take on new responsibilities, or be covering for colleagues who are ill or self-isolating. Many are dealing on a daily basis with people who are worried or upset. Some may have decided to move out of their homes to live by themselves during this time to protect their families.
Taking care of our mental health is as important as our physical health right now, and this is especially true when your job is to take care of others. If you’re a nurse, health worker or carer, here are some ways you can help protect your emotional and mental wellbeing.
There are a lot of things in our lives now that are outside of our control – including the virus, how our jobs have altered, and the restrictions lockdown has brought to our normal routines. We should try to avoid worrying about those if we can, and concentrate on the things we do have the power to change or improve.
Many health professionals will be coming home exhausted, and it’s important to rest in between shifts, but making the effort to do something will boost your energy levels and your mood. We can no longer do many of the activities that helped us to cope with work pressures in the past, like going out with friends, working out at the gym or heading to the cinema for a bit of escapism. Think about how you can recreate these experiences at home – for example a family movie night, a Zoom chat with pals, or an online exercise class.
If you’re in a hospital environment all day, or you’re a shift worker, getting out into the daylight is important. Going for a daily walk may feel like climbing Everest at the moment, but the fresh air and natural light will help.
Seeking out something that’s beautiful, entertaining or distracting can help us in difficult times. Chances are you have limited free time, but there’s a lot you can do with a few minutes. Try a mindfulness app, or see what’s available online – several galleries and museums are offering virtual tours, while everything from yoga classes to theatre performances are being streamed for free.
It’s easy to feel we must stay up to date with everything, but if we spend all of our downtime watching the news or scrolling through Twitter this could make us more anxious, and reinforce the thought that “absolutely everything is about the coronavirus”.
Work is probably hectic, but it’s important to process any difficult moments you have, and even have a cry if you need to. If you’re a team manager, gathering everyone for a debrief at the end of the shift will give people a chance to share experiences and talk about how they’re feeling if they wish.
Ploughing on day after day and always putting other people first is second nature for health workers, but you can’t take care of anyone if you don’t look after yourself. Make sure your needs are met at work, including taking meal breaks where possible. Ask for support from your manager if you’re finding things hard. If you can’t get to the shops, don’t hesitate to reach out to a friend or neighbour. There are also a number of community groups which have been set up to provide local support and advice.
Try to remember the positives, and the support. On the most difficult of days, try to think about the patients who are recovering, the general public who are volunteering, and the Thursday night clapping for the NHS and other key workers.
If you’re really struggling with anxiety or a low mood, or you’re being troubled by negative thoughts for example, many professional bodies including the Royal College of Nursing offer counselling and other support services, as do the occupational health teams at most NHS Trusts.
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